Today we talk with Chef Daniel Thomas of The Union Inn, Cowes….
Today I am speaking with Daniel the Chef here at The Union Inn; Thank you for meeting with me for Chefs Corner today.
- So let’s start off with you telling me a little bit about yourself and The Union Inn…
Well I have just taken over here at the Union Inn and have been here about three months. I am an island boy but moved off 12 years ago, all my family are here and when I decided to come back the Union Inn suits my style of cooking, home styled and makes you feel comforted. It’s a fill your boots and stick to your roots kind of food here, it’s not too fancy but with a little bit of a twist to it sometimes which just suited me down to the ground. I’d describe the Union Inn as a traditional old style pub with a new twist to it, like the décor, it comforts people and we have had people fall asleep in front of our fire. We specialise in real ales and menu wise we specialise in pies and burgers. We make our own pies everyday. Cowes week we made about 400 pies just for the week so that was pretty intense.
- Obviously you are cooking every day, so when you aren’t working here serving up delicious home cooked pub meals, where is your favourite place to eat out on the island?
I really like Italian food so Michelangelo in Ryde is somewhere I like to go to. I worked with them about 15 years ago when they first came to England and we have just stayed friends ever since. It’s really just a nice place to go it’s just honest food with no faff about it, it is what it is and it’s fresh so that’s why I like it there.
- What would you say was your favourite sin food?
My favourite sin food that is really bad for me would have to be cakes and doughnuts, home-made cakes. I have a real thing for them. At the moment my favourite would have to be dark chocolate and orange its heavy and warm and it goes so well with a nice cup of coffee, lovely!
- Do you have a favourite food that you consider to be healthy?
I’m a pretty big fan of humus and olives and marinated vegetables that kind of thing, olive oils and balsamic vinegar along the Greek, Italian, Mediterranean lines really.
- What is the strangest thing that you have ever eaten?
I’ve eaten insects before, chocolate coated crickets at a food show surprisingly they weren’t bad at all! If you can get away from the fact that they jump around fields and pollinate things then they are nice, crunchy haha. Just think of a pork scratching and you’ll be fine…..
- So what is the most eventful meal you have ever prepared?
At my last restaurant we had a couple that were Vegans, but Vegans with allergies and weren’t a fan of a good few vegetables, so we had to cater to them which was fine although a little frustrating and we made them happy so that was good. What was annoying though was on the third day that they came in she had sausages for breakfast. So after running around she then went and had sausages. It was an open kitchen too so my lips were closed but she was happy so all was good in the end.
- So when you get home, are you fed up of cooking or do you cook at home as well?
Most of the time I go out to eat and because I am here of a dinner time the nights I do have off I just tend to go out, but if I am at home I generally do the cooking, it’s usually something I want to do here so I am refining it and tweaking the recipe or I’ll have friends round and we will just have a big old feast which I’ll cook as I’m not a big fan of take-aways. I really like to cook Indian food at home which unfortunately does stink the flat out a bit but it’s good food and I warn the neighbours and have the doors and windows open haha
- As a chef what is the one ingredient at that you could not live without ?
Salt!!!!! Undoubtedly Salt! There are so many different varieties of it and I think that it’s the difference between cooking something good and cooking something great. It could be something as simple as a tomato, but adding just a little sprinkle of salt makes all the difference to me. I always encourage the boys to taste as they go, without double dipping of course …. just all the basic simple stuff, you can never take it away so add it a little at a time. If they are making soups, add less water than you need as you will water down the flavour and then if it’s too watery it’s going to be horrible and you’ll have to start again, which wastes money which makes an angry Dan, not good….
- The menu here, is it your input or are there a few of you putting ideas around for it?
The menu here is pretty much all me, the boys in the kitchen are all quite young and they are all doing their NVQ so it helps where they need to pass certain elements of that and we try and work that into what we cook. I like to put my experience into practice and try and pass it on to them too which is good.
- And your most overrated ingredient?
I know I like Italian food so this will sound odd, but I have to say Rosemary. Too much Rosemary to me tastes like cough medicine and if it’s not taken out or chopped up properly, considering it’s a member of the pine family, it’s like eating pine needles, it’s very tough. A little bit is amazing otherwise no thank you.
- So what is the strangest food request you have ever had?
That was here only a few weeks ago in the beginning of Cowes Week in the midst of mammoth pie making, we had someone ask if they could have a meat free steak pie….. I was thinking it would be the vegetarian kind of steak in a pie but she didn’t actually specify she just asked for a meat free steak pie. I’m afraid no was the answer. Normally I can cook you what you like, if there’s nothing on the menu I can create you something but not right in the middle of Cowes Week, I’m really sorry but I have to say no this time.
- Was becoming a Chef something you have always wanted to do?
When I was younger I either wanted or be a Chef or a Nurse which strangely enough are both kind of looking after people and caring for people, that sort of hospitality area but my Grandad used to be a baker, my Nan always did Apple Pies for family lunch and we would all crowd round there for Sunday lunch and the Apple Pie would come out with Custard and my Mum has always had something bubbling on the stove and even Wednesday me and my two brothers all went round my Mums and we had a great big roast dinner with guacamole and my step-Dad had just bought a Palma Ham which we had as well, a little bit of everything, it was really nice. So yeah it was my family really that got me into food, I should really be about 15 stone but luckily I’m not.
- Who is the chef that you would say that you most admire?
I had to think really hard about this one but most celebrity Chefs have just got massive egos. Sometimes I think they do it for the money rather than for the trade and how much they love it. At the moment a friend of mine Matt Potts, who doesn’t live on the island any more, is spear-heading a campaign called half measures which is to combat obesity in schools. So school dinners and school food in canteens. He goes into a school canteen to see what they are doing and he comes up with the same menu but with half the fat, half the sugar and half the salt. The last one he did, the kids at the school had no idea what he’d done, none at all. He also goes into colleges with sixth form kids and obviously they are about to leave school to go to college or university and it’s all about being able to fend for yourself and taking responsibility for what you are eating. If you’re just going to eat pre-packaged stuff you’re going to be overweight and possibly not healthy, but if the knowledge is there, kids will hopefully take a bit more notice of what they are eating and will know that fresh food tastes much better. It might be a little bit more expensive but it’s going to taste a lot better than a pre-packed meal.
He’s working for a big catering company so he has the backing for it, but he has been in the Waitrose magazine and been in a few other food magazines as well so yeah he’s the Chef I most admire. You can follow him and his campaign on Facebook
- What would your idea of food hell be?
Banana, oh my god. The texture, taste, smell…. everything about them. No thank you not even in a cake!
You’ve held up well to our intense interrogation so you’ll be glad to hear we have reached the end of the questions. Thank you so much for meeting with me today here at The Union Inn in Cowes.